Get Out the Map
The Former Volunteers' Guide to Sustainable Travel
It seems like everyone develops a bit of a traveling bug in the summer. This is a great time of year to get away from the daily grind and explore the world. However, those of us committed to living simply, may find it difficult to keep costs down and make sustainable choices when traveling.
Every year Catholic Volunteer Network employs former volunteers to serve as our short-term recruiters. In this role, recruiters reach out to students on over one hundred college campuses in different states all across the U.S. In addition to becoming our spokespersons for service, our recruiters also become true travel experts. A few recent recruiters shared their advice for planning memorable (and affordable!) summer vacations.
The Travel Experts
Matt Aujero served as a CVN recruiter from 2011-2012, after finishing up his year of service with FrancisCorps in Costa Rica. Matt is currently working as the Development Director for St. Francis International School in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Caitlin Baummer served alongside Matt as a recruiter in 2011-2012. She came to CVN after completing a year of service with Project SERVE in Baltimore, Maryland. Caitlin joined Catholic Volunteer Network’s AmeriCorps team in 2012 in the role of Program Assistant.
Catherine Drennan served with the Christian Brothers Volunteer Program in New Orleans, Louisiana before recruiting for Catholic Volunteer Network from 2010-2011. She now works in Harvard University’s Communications Department.
Choosing Your Destination
Think about where your former community members are now living. Any places you’ve never been to? This may be the once in a lifetime opportunity to visit Alaska’s Inner Passage or the Badlands in South Dakota. Visiting friends often gives you a free place to stay and a personal tour guide. If you are planning a trip to a place that you don’t have any contacts in, consider getting in touch with your program director to see if there are other alums in the area. Perhaps you might also see if there is the possibility of staying with members of the religious community that sponsored your program. Often those sisters, priests, or brothers enjoy the opportunity to know others who share their charism.
Caitlin, Catherine, and Matt all agree that knowing which travel sites provide the best discounts is key to smooth planning. Kayak.com is a search engine that makes comparing airfare and hotel rates extremely easy – but don’t forget to also check out Southwest.com, which isn’t included in Kayak results. Hotels.com enables you to search for hotels and B&Bs by proximity to landmarks and also provides rewards for frequent bookings. There are also a number of sites geared towards students and young adults. Catherine recommends using statravel.com, where she found great rates for her recent trip to Europe.
Local cuisine is often one of the cornerstones of culture, and you can learn a lot about a city’s history from it. You have to eat, so don’t waste this opportunity on just anything that you can easily find at home. Smart phone apps like Yelp and Scout Mob enable you to find coupons for nearby restaurants and provide information about the type of food served there. If you’re looking for locally sourced food or sustainable choices, GoPure.com (also available as a smart phone app) helps you find those restaurants in most major cities.
Stopping in churches does not just have to be limited to the cathedrals of Italy and France. Even when traveling in the U.S. you will find rich beauty and diversity in the churches you pass along the way. These moments of quiet prayer can also be a great source of rejuvenation after long days of travel.
Make Important Occasions Even More Memorable
Heading off the beaten path often makes vacations with friends and family even more special. Supporting local businesses often gives you the chance to get to know locals better and feel good about the investment you are making in the community. Caitlin is preparing for her July wedding and has put a lot of thought into her honeymoon destination. She says “We chose Costa Rica for our honeymoon. We really wanted to go somewhere we could truly experience and learn about a culture rather than just staying in an Americanized resort. We chose independent, locally owned hotels that emphasize sustainable practices and offer opportunities to learn about the local natural resources. We will also be spending a day on an organic farm, helping tend the fields and flocks!”
When you land in a new city, don’t forget that the easiest way to get an inside scoop is to connect with the people all around you. Catherine reflects, “Talk to people when you are traveling! Talk to the cab driver, talk to someone at dinner or a bar. Talk to anyone and everyone! I think this makes the trip that much more enjoyable. This past winter I had the opportunity to go to Aruba (I know I feel very spoiled after talking about all of these places I have visited!) On my way to the airport at the end of the trip I started talking to the cab driver who told me all about the history of Aruba. He told me that his father was Dutch and his mother was a native and how many of the people living on the island were similar. He then started to tell me all about carnival season down there. Having lived in New Orleans for a year I was very familiar with Mardi Gras season and the cultural traditions but the carnival season in Aruba, with some similarities, was overall very different and had many cultural traditions unique to Aruba's history. I never knew! And I never would have known if I had not been open to talking with him.”
As a final thought, Matt says, “I remember to pack light – in my bag and in my head. Service has forced me to be extra flexible, patient, and open so I like to keep my head light of expectations so I can be free to experience my travels more fully.”
We hope your summer is full of amazing adventures!